By embedding the National Trust's IT department in the organisation, Sarah Flannigan  has transformed a resented function into a respected one. Meanwhile her brainchild, a three-year £40m transformation programme, is on course to deliver over £90m of benefit to the charity in lower costs and greater revenues.

What the judges said

"On strategic vision and communications, especially to her team and the board, she's right up there, an impressive character in an organisation that has its priorities focused on restoration and management of great buildings and landscapes, clearly now it also sees the value of modern technology." Mark Chillingworth

"The submission showcases a great way of managing and inspiring staff." Edward Qualtrough

"She has done a lot of the basics, but also she has initiated a lot of business change and has a great relationship with the senior executive team." Ian Cox

When did you start your current role?
May 2010.

What is your reporting line?
CEO (director general).

Do you meet with and discuss business strategy with the CEO every week?
Yes.

Are you a member of the board of directors?
Yes.

What other executive boards do you sit on?
All main exec boards.

Does your organisation have a CDO?
No.

What non-technology responsibilities do you have in the organisation?
My role has expanded significantly beyond CIO and I also run a major transformation programme, the SSP. This programme has a far-reaching cultural change and income generation remit and was my brainchild in December 2012.

How many employees does your organisation have?
5,500 permanent, rising to 10,000 in the summer season, plus 67,000 volunteers.

How many users does your department supply services to?
As above: 5,500 permanent, rising to 10,000 in the summer season, plus 67,000 volunteers.

How do you ensure that you have a good understanding of your business and how your customers use your business's products?
The National Trust's business is conducted at its 350 properties and the vast majority of staff and volunteers are based there. I do two things to make sure I, and my team, have a strong understanding of our business and the use of IT by our customers:

1. I spend as much as a day a week with property colleagues at their place of work. From day one I have ensured I constantly spend quality time with colleagues, discussing business issues, their constraints and opportunities, and how they use IT. I have visited in excess of 200 National Trust properties, waiting tables, cashing up, serving customers, helping with conservation work. The result of this deep understanding of the National Trust's works was that I conceived an initial three-year IT strategy that has now successfully completed (including a much needed £15m investment in our IT property infrastructure) as well as a systems simplification programme (SSP), which is overhauling the painful and inefficient internal manual processes I have witnessed and increasing customer value.

2. I mandate five days of property work experience for all IT staff every year. It is non-negotiable: my staff have to spend time with property colleagues, learning about how we deliver our core purpose on the front line and understanding where IT constrains or helps our customers. They are asked to come back brimming with ideas and passion for the National Trust, and respect for our colleagues. IT staff have to take the 'IT teddy bear' with them and post photos of it in situ on my blog. The penalty this year for the handful of people who didn't organise their own work experience is to take a life-size bear with them instead! 

It has been a hugely successful initiative. Staff return reinvigorated, with far better understanding of how IT services the organisation, and full of ideas to improve things. Our IT staff survey results for questions relating to commitment to the National Trust's cause, and likelihood to recommend it as a place to work, are higher than all other teams in the organisation – even conservation and front line property staff. It's a brilliant way of embedding IT staff in the business – property managers constantly reflect to me how important it is, and how it has increased their respect for, and understanding of, the previously resented IT department.

National Trust technology strategy and agenda

Is your organisation being disrupted by the internet, mobility or technology-oriented start-ups?
Yes.

Are you empowered by your organisation to disrupt from the inside?
Yes.

Describe a disruptive measure you’ve led or played a major part in
The SSP is turning on its head how the National Trust interacts with its 200 million annual visitors and its 4 million members.

Historically, our prime marketing channels were direct marketing or staff at visitor reception at a property. The major transformation programme I have defined and am delivering is changing that. We have delivered advanced customer analytics, a completely integrated customer data warehouse, and an automated marketing campaign engine that lets us communicate with our customers on a personalised basis instead of a one-to-many comms approach. The benefits are too many to list here, but we can now cross-fertilise our different customers (if they book a holiday cottage, would they also like to book an event? etc) and reward and incentivise our customers with communications directly relevant to them. We are seeing immediate and direct returns on investment from this programme (increased visitors/member recruitment, etc).

A further essential plank of this new customer strategy is our digital innovation programme, also part of the SSP, which will enable customers to access rich information about our properties during their visit on smartphones. Historically, this has been delivered by volunteer room guides. In future visitors will be able to get location-based information as they move around our properties, discovering property history, interesting facts, opening hours, etc. The next phase will be prompted invitations to donate money to help preserve a particular item in a house collection or cross-sell links to relevant products in our shops.

Overall, these initiatives are a complete game changer. They will save us wasted direct marketing expense and deliver far greater revenues and deeper customer loyalty.

What major transformation project has been recently completed or is under way at your organisation?
The SSP is a three-year transformation programme, the single biggest programme of its kind the National Trust has ever undertaken. It is costing £40m and will deliver over £90m of benefit, a direct return on investment that we can plough back into our conservation work: our core purpose.

In December 2012, as a new director general joined the National Trust, I wrote a paper setting out a radical new vision for how we could undertake a series of interrelated, joined-up initiatives to deliver a step-change in customer engagement and overhaul the inefficient internal manual processes that had been dogging us for decades. It was a high-cost, high-risk, high-reward programme – and to her infinite credit the director general said yes. I am now leading this programme, which will be substantially complete this time next year.

The SSP consists of five interrelated programmes: digital, supporter loyalty, EPOS/tills, finance and MI. Such programmes notoriously go off the rails, but so far it is going better than any of us could have dared hope. We have made a series of successful deliveries, on time, on budget, to quality. For example, a single supporter view data warehouse holds 13 million customer records and tells us which of our customers buy from us online but never visit properties, or who volunteers but isn't a member, etc. The analytics capability we've implemented on top of this newly integrated data is already paying huge dividends. For example, a property that used to attract 500 visitors to its annual BBQ has trebled that this year through more targeted marketing based on the new analytics and visualisation capability.

We've delivered a new budgeting tool across the organisation, eliminating the many hours of wasted staff time and frustration that used to be expended each year on compiling and approving budgets. We start to roll out our new EPOS solution in April and our new finance and procurement solutions go live in October.

Perhaps most excitingly, I've run a staff engagement and comms programme for the past 18 months, taking it around the organisation to present it to staff and discuss it. We've run very successful roadshows, including asking staff to describe what the SSP means to them (good and bad) in their own words. We've set up operations assurance groups – groups of staff who come together to sanity-check and sign off on our proposed new processes – and we have a network of regional champions who act as a comms conduit. Surveys show staff awareness is extremely high, as is confidence. I have deliberately set a tone of communicating honestly and openly about what is going well, but also what is not; and of describing the exciting new world but reminding people they won't welcome all of the proposed new changes. This honesty and realism is regularly cited as one of the programme's critical success factors.

What impact will the above transformation have on your organisation?
There is no other lever the National Trust could pull which could better deliver a greater ROI. We will generate £90m of direct benefit through this programme: half in increased revenue and the other half in cost reduction (through improved procurement and greater efficiency). There are many non-financial benefits too – improved visitor satisfaction, enhanced customer access to the public benefit we provide, and improved staff and volunteer satisfaction.

The SSP is bringing significant organisational change – new ways of working, new roles, some roles disappearing, adherence to standardised processes, etc. It is also transforming how we capture information about our customers, analyse it and respond to this new insight.

How has your leadership style contributed to the outcomes of the transformation project
360 feedback suggests I have been successful in selling the vision and leading the charge. The programme is infused with confidence, determination, pace, clear communication and honesty and I'm proud of that. At the outset I had to persuade our openly sceptical board of trustees; through a series of Dragons' Den-style workshops I successfully convinced them of the need to invest and they are now our biggest supporters. I have built a strong and successful delivery team – of IT and non-IT people – that our trustees report as the most impressive team they have come across in their combined collective careers.

What key technologies do you consider enable transformation?
Technology alone can't deliver transformation, clever application can. For us, data analytics is king along with innovative digital/mobility technology to be used by visitors as they travel to, from and around our properties.

Are you expanding the number of cloud applications or infrastructure in use at your organisation?
Yes.

What is your information and data analytics vision for the organisation?
A single enterprise data warehouse, enabling one version of the truth; clear data governance and stewardship, including agreed data definitions; simple to use but powerful analytics (Tableau); and self-service access to management reporting via OBIEE reporting dashboard for decision-makers.

How is mobile and social networking impacting operations and customer experience?
National Trust members are ahead of the market for mobile/smartphone technology adoption. Over 50% of our website traffic comes from a mobile device. We have millions of Facebook/Twitter interactions and countless blogs around the country (on diverse subjects such as a ranger describing coastal path restoration). The ability to deliver content to a visitor during a visit on-property is transformational – but often thwarted by weak rural networks – especially at our coast or country destinations. So we're making use of a whole combination of broadband/satellite/microwave/Wi-Fi bridging/geofencing to overcome this.

Describe your strategic vision towards shadow IT and BYOD. How do you influence and engage executives and employees around choice?
I have integrated all inherited shadow IT teams into my own IT team to maximise funds. We have a clear and open policy on BYOD – it saves the National Trust money for users to have their own devices. We allow Apple product access but not Android because of security constraints; this is governed by a data protection policy that the user must sign permitting IT to wipe National Trust data from a device when someone leaves the organisation.

If managed well and communicated clearly, BYOD is the way forward for an organisation like the National Trust.

What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom?
New EPOS infrastructure with Omnico, new finance solution from Unit4, data warehousing with Amazon Redshift, analytics and marketing with Tableau and Adobe Campaign, CRM hosting and support with Claremont, upgraded service support and helpdesk with SCC, network infrastructure with BT, further hosting with Attenda and Adapt.

Who are your main suppliers?
• SCC
• BT
• Claremont
• Adapt
• Attenda
• Omnico
• Unit 4
• Adobe Campaign
• Amazon Redshift

National Trust IT security and budget

Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
No.

Has cyber-security risen up your management agenda?
Yes.

Does your organisation understand the potential cyber-security threats it faces?
Yes.

Has this led to an increase in your security budget?
Yes.

What is the IT budget?
Total annual opex budget of £21m; annual capex budget of an average of aroound £15m.

How much is the IT operational spend compared with the revenue as a percentage?
4%.

What is the strategic aim of the CIO and IT operations for the next financial year?
The complete delivery of the SSP to time, quality and budget; to do so without breaking the IT department; and to do so with panache!

To ensure we keep the lights on at a time of significant change.

And to ensure we also deliver further non-SSP major infrastructure upgrades successfully and embed clear and efficient IT internal processes so we function as cleanly and leanly as possible.

Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
No.

Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Yes.

Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
Yes.

National Trust technology department

How would you describe your leadership style?
Colleagues describe me as inspirational, energetic, pacey, fun, strategic yet detailed, determined, caring.

Explain how you’ve supported and developed your senior leadership team to support your overall objectives and vision
I have a small close-knit team. We agree our objectives together, review progress together and support one another during highs and lows. I have a very strong leadership team and we are widely credited with bringing about real change within the IT department and our customers' perception of us. Internal development and promotion are a particular focus.

How many employees are in your IT team?
95 permanent.

What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?
95 perm; 30 contractors; helpdesk and some development is outsourced.

Does your team include key skilled workers from the EU?
Yes.